Time and again we have puzzles with no upvotes — or with downvotes — that have answers with upvotes.

This seems to paradoxically imply:

  • Solvers do not appreciate many puzzles they find worthwhile to answer.

  • Voters believe that many valueless puzzles have valuable solutions.

Surely some of this behavior is conscious, which raises a question.

Is it good for Puzzling when a solution is posted by someone who is not interested enough to vote for the puzzle?

(These tend to be recent puzzles, not unsolved fossil toughies.)

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    $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure it's just that people don't like the puzzle (for some reason or another) but they like the answer (i.e. good formatting etc). Thus they downvote the puzzle for being bad and they upvote the answer for being good. $\endgroup$
    – dcfyj
    Jan 26 '17 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ True, @dcfyj, some solutions would be valuable in any setting, and some solutions are so absolutely transcendent that even a good puzzle can become all but immaterial: f'''s Ghotiy spelling $\endgroup$
    – humn
    Jan 26 '17 at 16:26
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    $\begingroup$ If a question is good I upvote, if it had a bad answer I don't. So I don't understand why you think it is not the same for answers and questions? If its a good answer to a bad puzzle, then I only upvote the answer... $\endgroup$ Jan 26 '17 at 20:51

It Depends.

People's reasons for answering a question may not directly coincide with their timing and/or reasons for voting on a question.

  • A bad question may get answered solely because the answerer wants to point out why it's a bad question ("This has been asked before!", or, "This is too broad: my answer here fits the puzzle entirely, but surely isn't what you intended!", for example), with an answer included to show either the question's triviality, duplicativity, excessive broadness, or whatever. This answer may well be upvoted not out of recognition of its brilliance, but out of agreement for the point it is making.
  • Users may withhold their votes on a question until they see what the answer is—until an answer is accepted as correct, that is—because in many cases the question's quality depends on whether or not it has a reasonable answer. I, for one, generally will not upvote a question (even one I am answering!) until it has an accepted answer, and then I decide if I think the question given its solution is voteworthy. Because ...
  • There are definitely cases where the intended solution, once determined, shows a post to be a bad question, or at least one undeserving of an upvote. I wouldn't want to have an upvote locked in on a question I eventually considered undeserving of it, or worse, deserving of the opposite. Other people who have already voted may retract or reverse an original upvote after seeing the solution, which means votes after a question is settled may differ from what the votes looked like as the question was still open.

I don't think it's correct to assume that just because someone answers a question that they must think it to be an upvote-worthy question. I also don't think it's correct to assume that just because someone answers a question without upvoting it that they must think it is not upvote-worthy. My personal answering and voting habits belie both of these assumptions.

As for whether this is good or bad for PSE:

Your "No" answer offers a few potential downsides for people not upvoting questions they deem worthy of an answer, but they are all framed around the assumption that not upvoting a question means your answer is "unenthusiastic" or "casual". I disagree; I think that's an unfortunate and unwarranted assumption.

To the extent that answering but not voting on a question "can bewilder the puzzle’s poser, at best", you may have a point, but only if the question poser believes that people can and should make voting decisions on a question before they've seen its answer. If that type of delayed voting is what you are considering to be "misdirected voting behavior" then we have a difference of opinion. I think many questions posted here cannot be judged on sight, and many others definitely shouldn't be; their quality, or lack thereof, is only made clear by seeing the full solution. So not voting up front does not mean the answerer is indifferent to the question; assuming it does is not only unwarranted, but likely to frustrate.

We have the freedom to choose how, and when, to cast our votes.

  • I would agree that people who answer but don't bother to vote, or put little effort into their answer because they're just not that interested in the question, are acting to PSE's detriment.
  • But I don't agree that just because you don't see a vote cast, either at answer time or, indeed, ever, necessarily puts an answerer into that camp. After all, an intentional decision not to cast an upvote or a downvote is still a vote—and when used, and viewed, as such, it's not an indication of indifference to a question but rather a considered opinion on the relative merits of a specific question (in light of its intended answer). Taking into account both a puzzle and its solution, and providing an honest assessment of it, seems to me to be perfectly in keeping with how PSE should operate.

Mu. Not upvoting a question doesn't imply thinking it's a bad question, contrary to the assumptions in the question.

I am rather miserly with upvotes (and also with downvotes) and I solve a lot more puzzles than I upvote. I take my upvotes to mean "this is an unusually good puzzle" (or "this is an unusually good answer), rather than e.g. "this is a good enough puzzle that I don't mind seeing it here". If I solve a puzzle without voting on it, it doesn't mean the puzzle is "weak".

(If everyone adopted the same approach, then probably PSE would be a discouraging place for puzzle-makers. But most people don't! And if they did, I would probably adjust my voting habits to be more generous. In so far as participants agree about which puzzles are better and which worse, diversity in where the threshold for an upvote or downvote lies leads to more informative scores, as you can see by considering the "low-diversity" case in which everyone has the same criteria for voting, and every puzzle is at either -max or zero or +max.)

  • $\begingroup$ This answer is not quite complete, Gareth. You could safely mention that your solutions are consistently enthusiastic (which probably helps their puzzles gain recognition beyond what your single potential vote could). $\endgroup$
    – humn
    Jan 26 '17 at 17:38

This seems to paradoxically imply:

  • Solvers do not appreciate many puzzles they find worthwhile to answer.

  • Voters believe that many valueless puzzles have valuable solutions.

I think the second of these is true but not the first.

As a solver, I normally upvote questions that I find worthy of answering. There are exceptions - especially in the past, I have been known to answer bad or even closeworthy questions. But in general, if I find it enjoyable to answer, then it's probably a good puzzle, and if I don't upvote it, then I won't bother answering it either.

As a voter, these principles don't apply. I've found plenty of questions which I think are subpar for one reason or another (perhaps not clearly specified enough, for instance, or on the verge of too broad - or, for that matter, most actually closed questions) but which have nonetheless attracted good answers. If someone has put effort into successfully solving what I think (even if they didn't) is a bad puzzle, then they deserve to be rewarded for that effort even if the puzzle itself doesn't.

Admittedly I'm not an average user, and perhaps not everyone shares my principles. But it does stand to reason that people won't tend to bother answering questions they think are bad, and that many answers are considered (by third parties) to be more worthy than the puzzles they're solving.

Also, split infinitive alert!


Firstly, regarding voting habits;

I don't know about others but, similarly to @GarethMcCaughan (though I think I may be less miserly), I think of not voting as a middle of the road option.

I base my decision (up, down, neither) on:

1) whether a question is well written and easy to understand, and 2) whether the answer is fitting or satisfying

So, because the answer is a very important part of the complete puzzle, I vote questions up almost exclusively after an answer has been accepted so that I can decide whether or not the question made sense, baring in mind that the correct answer to a puzzle (unless you're Edgar Allan Poe) is determined by the asker before they even ask!

Answers however are different! We typically read a lot more answers than we do questions, and I do not restrict my up-votes to accepted or correct or even partially-correct answers, but rather to answers that are helpful (or sometimes just very clever or funny to be honest). So sometimes I may up-vote an answer and then leave - never to return - without up-voting a question simply because I didn't find out whether this was the intended answer of the OP, but this doesn't necessarily mean that I think this was a 'valueless puzzle with a valuable solution'.

Secondly, regarding my answers;

I answer questions that I have not voted on abiding by the same logic; I usually can't determine whether a puzzle is good or not without knowing the answer. I have not been able to determine the value of the puzzle, but I have answered it. So in this respect, as you put it, I may 'not appreciate many puzzles they find worthwhile to answer'.

Thirdly, regarding whether 'it is good for Puzzling when a solution is posted by someone who is not interested enough to vote for the puzzle';

my answer would be yes, because you'd be surprised the amount of times I've wondered whether I should guess at an answer, where I've been stumped "but actually maybe its... NO! Surely not! That would be terrible! I so hope that's not the answer... I guess there's only one way to find out."

So... even assuming that any puzzle that I do not dislike would get a +1, even if I've bothered to provide an answer and even if that answer has been accepted, I may then decide (and it has happened) "Hey, that wasn't satisfying at all. I guess it wasn't just poor wording after all. I'm actually disappointed that this was the answer they were looking for. I really just wanted to rule it out and maybe help move things along."

Also, I've up-voted answers to questions that were probably posted for similar reasons! It helps to stop you sitting staring at a question hoping to fathom some hidden grain of information that will make sense of, and entirely justify, a question that, in a state of not knowing, could be really excellent or actually a bit poo.

And lastly, an answer to a question you didn't actually ask;

Would it be good for PSE if there was a culture wherein people valued questions more; enough that they might keep track of questions that they've looked at and wondered about (and maybe up-voted an answer or two), and eventually return to that question to see what the accepted answer turned out to be so that they can up-vote it if they deem it appropriate to do so? maybe and maybe I'll try to be more like that.

Thinking about it now, I think I remember reading a badge description that specified that a certain minimum percentage of total up-votes must be on questions, so it can't be the first time someone's wondered about this sort of thing!


Yes.   Answering a puzzle cynically has endless important benefits.

  • The sooner a weak puzzle is solved, the sooner it will be forgotten.

  • A weak puzzle signals that its poser does not know the solution and needs to be rescued as quickly as possible.

  • There is no guarantee that someone else will ever find the puzzle interesting and also know enough to solve it.

  • A casual answer could turn out to be brilliant.

  • The puzzle might only deserve an upvote if its poser checkmarks the answerer’s solution.

  • Ignoring or downvoting is not a sufficient insult to an unimpressive puzzle.

  • Votes for correct-but-unenthusiastic answers help sustain reputation-seeking behavior that would be considered parasitic if it didn’t also perform the necessary function of bewildering puzzle posers.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I can support this answer as much as I'd like to. I'd worry that it (esp. the first point) establishes a combative relationship between the OP and answerer, and motivates the answerer to do so for the wrong reasons. $\endgroup$
    – user20
    Jan 26 '17 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ If you think a question is poor, you should not be answering it. Note that closed questions with minimal score and without any answers above a certain score are automatically deleted by the system after a certain amount of time. Answering the question makes it less likely that poor questions will be deleted. $\endgroup$
    – GentlePurpleRain Mod
    Jan 27 '17 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ @GentlePurpleRain There's a distinction between a poor question and an off-topic question, is there not? I believe a merely poor question shouldn't be closed in the first place, and so wouldn't be a candidate for off-topic deletion. $\endgroup$
    – Sconibulus
    Feb 8 '17 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Sconibulus I believe the same goes for questions below a certain score. If they don't have any upvoted answers, they eventually get deleted. $\endgroup$
    – GentlePurpleRain Mod
    Feb 8 '17 at 16:20

No.   Solving a puzzle unenthusiastically can cause more harm than good.

  • A casual solution generally has lower quality than would result from allowing the puzzle to wait for an interested solver who would put more time into writing a fuller answer that is more likely to address nuances of the puzzle.

That should be reason enough but there’s more.

  • An easy-but-unenthusiastic solution removes an opportunity for a novice solver to gain experience.

  • Although no one solution absolutely prevents anyone else from offering another solution, a casual-but-correct solution certainly discourages it.

  • Having an unacknowledged puzzle’s solution receive approval can bewilder the puzzle’s poser, at best, and trigger further misdirected voting behavior as well.


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